Hazel Peters is the winner of the Under-18 category of this blog’s writing competition.
Hazel’s father, Keith, tells me that Hazel began showing her passion for nature, particularly birds, at around 7 years; recording what she saw, researching as much as she could and saving pocket money for binoculars. If she’s not at school, she’s out in the field.
Hazel’s winning entry:
Fire, dim and dying, burnt behind the horizon. Veins of cloud choked the last light. The white shapes of Herring Gulls smouldered against the grey. Wrens quivered on the edge of consciousness. The birds were still, quiet; their unquenchable instincts leading them to the dark hollows of hedgerows. I spied their narrow fleeting shapes, like memories that I could decipher into dreams and reality, as they tremored through the grey. It was only the House Sparrows that would dare wander into the cold gleam of winter. Sharp voices, quickening to the flicker of wings and fear, would follow their nervous flights. The wind was rough, the damp bitter on my lip. The black binoculars around my neck were cold to touch. Mud gleamed like murky water as I walked over it.
I stopped and sat down. Quiet, still.
Gold glimmered against the dull December light. A charm of Goldfinches bounced above me, their shadows eclipsing the dying light. Woodpigeons clamoured in the stillness. Long-Tailed Tits threaded their songs into the wind.
Birds have always fascinated me. They possess the minds we once had. They live in spectrums of instinct; fear and joy comes to them with its fulfillment. They do not worry for the past or future, only the present and what is. There is no time in their rushed lives to admire or regret, only to fear. In the words of J.A Baker, ‘they are old before we have finished growing’.
They are not selfish, or cruel, or kind or giving – they are just being.
The guttural callings of Crows grew from behind the treeline. I watched them as they swept across the damp ploughed field as a clattering of Jackdaws rose high amongst them.
I sat there some more for a while, I’m not sure how long I was there for, as time in nature is not measured in the pressure of ticking and loss. ‘A while’ was measured in wind and fading light.
Shadows bloomed across the land. Grey Wagtails slur the sky. The slim outline of a Grey Heron curved up from the top of the viaduct, the shadows of Herring and Lesser Black-Backed Gulls swooped upon it.
The piercing voices of Blue Tits began to stir. Black-Headed Gulls sank to the rim of the earth in the distance. A small murmuration of starlings moved like a shimmering oil slick over the ploughed field. I looked at the horizon; fire was turning to smoke.
Quiet footsteps took me down a narrow path flanked with bare hedges and blackberry bushes. The burning warning call of a Blackbird rang, and crescendoed into a fleeting black smear erupting from the hedgerow. I darkened his kaleidoscope of instinct. Even though I have learnt to fear with nature, to blend my shape into the land, I will always be the dread in a Blackbirds voice, or the fleeting sprint of a Rabbit’s feet. It was a warning that I was not being as quiet as I could be.
Silence and stillness again. Fading light, growing darkness.
Vision blurred in those colours. I see a glint of silver first, cold in the December twilight. A scythe of white, the amber dusk of the hunting eye. Mottled wings shaped with violence, a chasing brown tail charred with bands of ash. The voices of House Sparrows and Blackbirds quickened to the pulse of wing beats. I breathed in, as if to exhale the moment. But the colours left and raced low over the hedge, and into the twilight, the dark outline of a Sparrowhawk with them.